The off-Broadway musical Brooklyn has taken sixteen years to reach the UK. The programme (essential reading!) tells the audience that, using the time-honoured ‘play-within-a-play’ structure, the show focuses on five homeless people who use the space under Brooklyn Bridge to stage their story about a Parisian orphan singer, who just happens to be called Brooklyn. She, naturally, becomes a star, searches the New York streets for her father, and performs at Carnegie Hall in competition with another local singer, Paradice.
Brooklyn fields a very strong team of vocalists.
Andrew Patrick-Walker is the Street Singer, a role which involves him in narrating most of the show as well as singing a few very powerful songs, the best of which is ‘Magic Man’ towards the end of Act One. However, we know little about him: the authors have not attempted to make him into a rounded character. He is just there!
John Addison, with a superb voice and a ready understanding of the style needed for each of his songs in Act Two, is a dominant force whenever he is onstage, which, in Act One, is not enough. He is the most convincing in role (Taylor Collins), and a pleasure to listen to.
Hiba Elchikhe, as Brooklyn herself, sings effectively, even if her facial expressions are limited. Luckily her song ‘Once Upon a Time’ is reprised many times! It is the most memorable in the musical – though perhaps that is because one hears it so much!
Her rival in song, Paradice, is sung by Emily-Mae and has been well chosen as her singing style is in total contrast to that of Brooklyn, as the authors intended.
The fifth member of the cast, Sabrina Aloueche is underused in comparison with the others and is given no meaningful role. She sits on the stage a great deal of the time and sings in ensembles: one keeps hoping that she will be used more.
Both songs and book were written jointly by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson. Musical numbers are in a variety of styles including, Rock, Ballad and Gospel. The big weakness in the show, however, is the trite plot and the dialogue, both of which show their age and should really have been completely revised for the UK premiere. All the cast and the director do their level best with the cringeworthy sentences they have to say, but the musical only comes to life during the songs. You need the programme notes to understand what is going on, and when you know, you find it was not worthwhile!
The director (Adam Haigh) has done his best to hide the weaknesses inherent in the writing, and the musical numbers are inventively staged, though one does get tired of the ladders being wheeled round the stage. In his programme notes, he talks about Brooklyn’s “ever changing moods and themes, such as loss of purpose, grief and the multifaceted nature of love” but has found it difficult to show these in his production.
The set (Justin Williams) depicts a derelict street corner in New York – you would not know that it was supposed to be under Brooklyn Bridge – and the lighting (Jack Weir) is imaginative.
One of the most enjoyable elements of the evening is the playing of the imaginative, uncredited, musical arrangements by a band of six (larger than the cast!) under the MD Richard Baker.
Brooklyn is not a long show – each act only runs 40 minutes – and is at Greenwich Theatre (10 minutes from London Bridge!) until 19 October.
Review by John Groves
BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL is a story within a story. A touching ‘sidewalk fairytale’ about a band of soulful street singers who meet up to share stories from their lives. The story tonight: a young Parisian coming to America to search for fame and the father she never knew and the journey she embarks upon to find the soul of the city that bears her name.
With an incredible mix of rock, pop and soul — and featuring the smash hit songs ‘Once Upon a Time’, ‘I Never Knew His Name’, ‘Superlover’, ‘Raven’ and ‘Heart Behind These Hands’ — these stories interweave to create an inspiring and touching musical that celebrates the high-spirited energy of New York City.
Brooklyn has a book, lyrics and music by Mark Schoenfeld and Barri McPherson. The duo wrote the musical after Schoenfeld fell on hard times and McPherson, a friend from his past, heard him singing on the street one day. She invited him to live in her home and the two of them subsequently wrote Brooklyn.
Starring Hiba Elchikhe as Brooklyn, Emily-Mae as Paradice, Sabrina Aloueche as Faith, John Addison as Taylor, Andrew Patrick-Walker as Streetsinger and Jodie Beth Meyer as alternate Brooklyn.
Adam Haigh directs and choreographs.
Lighting Designer is Jack Weir
Sound is Andrew Johnson
Set Designer is Justin Williams
BROOKLYN THE MUSICAL
27 SEP – 19 OCT 2019